The Montreal Canadiens may have lost Brendan Gallagher to a broken thumb. However, they gained additional salary-cap flexibility. Down the stretch, it could prove to be more valuable.
Obviously, there’s no replacing Gallagher. The Canadiens can try in the short term, as they did with Jesperi Kotkaniemi to start. So, if it’s a question of which one the Habs would prefer to have, the space or Gallagher, the answer is clearly Gallagher. It’s just more complicated than that though, for the simple reason that the injury can theoretically give them both.
Gallagher on LTIR
With Gallagher having been placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), the Canadiens can use his salary relief, especially with him only projected to be out six weeks. That coincides with the start of the playoffs, during which the salary cap doesn’t apply. So, much like the cap-constrained Tampa Bay Lightning did with Nikita Kucherov, placing him on LTIR as a result of the hip surgery he had, only to expect him back for the playoffs, the Canadiens now also have the opportunity to take advantage of the bad hand life has dealt them.
The Canadiens may have lost arguably their most important forward, if not player, in Gallagher. However, the excess cap space they now have allows them to do more trade-deadline shopping if general manager Marc Bergevin so chooses. And he most definitely should, to be clear.
The Canadiens may not be Stanley Cup contenders, but they are potentially one piece or two away. Perhaps the biggest hole is on defense. It’s been there beside captain Shea Weber ever since Andrei Markov left for the Kontinental Hockey League in 2017. Since that point, Bergevin has drafted Jesperi Kotkaniemi and traded for Nick Suzuki. It’s fair to say, with the acquisition of Eric Staal from the Buffalo Sabres, Bergevin has solidified the center position for the Canadiens, which had probably been their most pressing need.
Weber Needs a New Partner
Of course, it’s now four years later. As you might imagine, Weber is four years older too. In fact, so is everyone else coincidentally enough. However, in Weber’s case, the ramifications have higher stakes with regard to how the team fares on the ice, considering the degree to which he’s relied on with the most time on ice per game on the team (22:51). Evidence is mounting that his lack of mobility has caught up to him, making him an arguable defensive liability.
The theory is hard to dispute looking at both the eye test and stats such as Weber’s 14th-ranked relative -3.3 shot attempt percentage (SAT% Relative), according to NHL.com, heading into action Thursday night. Meanwhile, according to MoneyPuck.com, his makeshift pairing with Joel Edmundson, with Ben Chiarot injured, is the worst-ranked on the team in terms of expected-goals percentage (XGoals%) by a wide margin.
True, Weber does technically start most of his shifts in the defensive zone. However, Edmundson does to a greater extent (50.6% vs. 49.0%), and the latter’s pairing with Jeff Petry earned rave reviews while they were together. The reasoning is simple: Edmundson’s complementary style relative to Petry. Granted, Petry is an elite talent from a puck-moving standpoint. That should only reinforce the idea Weber needs someone, anyone, who can move the puck up ice better than he can.
As a result, Bergevin’s mandate should be clear. Whether it’s by acquiring Mattias Ekholm of the Nashville Predators or Vince Dunn of the St. Louis Blues, Bergevin will logically have to trade for another defenseman with some much needed mobility sooner or later.
Gallagher Injury Presents an Opportunity
With Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar, two thirds of the team’s first line alongside Gallagher, set to hit unrestricted free agency, there’s no good reason to wait. Not with Weber and goalie Carey Price as old as they are, not with the additional cap space Bergevin now has and definitely not if Bergevin can acquire a mobile, left-handed defenseman with term left on his contract.
Gallagher’s injury is not as much a blessing in disguise as it is an opportunity. All of a sudden, the Canadiens, for whom everything seemed to go so easily at the very start of the season, are facing their fair share of adversity. Between the COVID-19 scare, the resulting condensed schedule and now the injuries, the Habs are being significantly tested.
However, with the Canadiens firmly entrenched in the final North Division playoff spot, a berth is far from in doubt. If they make it, and all indications are that they will, Gallagher will end up being the biggest trade-deadline acquisition of them all. Now, more than ever before, there’s room for others, though. He (and Staal) don’t have to be the only ones. They shouldn’t either.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.